Integrity in Science Watch|
Week of 11/10/2008
Cattlemen-Tied Researchers on NAS Meat Safety Panel
A National Academy of Sciences committee considering
improvements in the nation's meat-safety inspection system is
dominated by members with financial ties to the meat industry.
Those numbers greatly outnumber consumer advocacy
representatives, according to an investigation by the Consumer
Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public
Interest. The committee met for the first time last week. Out of the 29 members of the NAS Standing Committee on the Use of
Public Health Data in FSIS Food Safety Programs, 16 were recently employed by food companies or have accepted research funding from the meat and processed food industries. Ten of the group's members did not disclose those financial relationships on the NAS website.
The committee will evaluate the data and methodology of the
Agriculture Department's risk-based inspection (RBI) system,
which is administered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service
(FSIS). Congress called a halt to the program in 2007 after consumer-group complaints. FSIS claims RBI allows the
agency to focus inspections on the riskiest slaughterhouses and
meat processing facilities. But the risk rankings are derived from a survey of 23 people, many of whom worked directly for the meat industry or had industry experience.
Members of the committee with undisclosed conflicts of interest
included Mindy Brashears, professor of Animal and Food Sciences
at Texas Tech University, whose 2007 study on E. coli in feedlot
supported in part by the Beef Checkoff program through the
Cattlemen's Beef Board; and Michael Doyle, director of the
University of Georgia Center for Food Safety, who has received
numerous grants from the American Meat Institute and has been
principal investigator on food safety projects funded by Kraft Foods and Great Eastern Mussel Farms.
In addition, four members of the NAS review committee were among
the original 23 respondents who provided the original risk
rankings, raising questions about their ability to independently
assess the data's quality.
Columbia, Emory Update COI Policies
In the wake of a congressional investigation into academic researchers who fail to report financial ties to industry while receiving federal grants, Columbia University announced last week it will upgrade its financial conflict of interest policy to meet tougher federal standards, the Columbia Spectator reported. The investigation, led by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), recently focused on the university's relationship with the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, which is led by two doctors at Columbia Medical School - Martin Leon and Gregg Stone. "The draft policy, like the current policies, helps preserve the integrity of research by assuring appropriate relationships with commercial entities for the benefit of researchers, the University, and the public," a university statement said. The university intends for the policy to be consistent across all schools, according to the Spectator.
Meanwhile, Emory University President James Wagner has appointed
an advisory commission to review the university's policies and
practices in policing conflicts of interest. The Atlanta
reported the president appointed Paul Root Wolpe, director of
Emory's Center for Ethics, to chair the panel. Grassley's
investigation recently revealed that Emory psychiatrist Charles
Nemeroff failed to tell the university about receiving millions
of dollars from a drug company while simultaneously studying
that company's drug on a government-funded project. Nemeroff
subsequently resigned as principal investigator of a National Institutes of Health study and as chair of the psychiatry department.
Senate Committee Seeks More Company Records
The Senate Finance Committee has asked health industry giants Johnson & Johnson, Medtronics, Abbott Labs, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly to turn over records of payments to psychiatrists, Bloomberg.com reported last week. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said the inquiry was designed "to determine more about the accuracy of disclosures of financial relationships between industry and doctors and to build a case for his sunshine legislation." AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly have been asked to turn over information about their payments to Stanford University psychiatrist Alan Schatzberg, who was
criticized (registration required) last summer over failing to disclose that he held $6 million in stock in Corcept
Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company whose drug mifepristone
was simultaneously being studied under his leadership for the
National Institutes of Health. Schatzberg stepped down from the
study as a result of the investigation.
Land Grant University Scientists Join Biofuels Industry Team
An industry-supported letter attempting to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from measuring greenhouse gas
emissions from biofuels production has been signed by five prominent scientists at land grant universities and a
federal lab. The letter, which called the effort "premature,"
was sent to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson. It came in
response to an environmental group push to get the agency to
issue the report as required by the Renewable Fuel Standard of
the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. "Ethanol
production today using U.S. corn contributes
to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture,
causing very large greenhouse gas emissions," the letter
from the Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Working Group, and
Friends of the Earth said.
Odds and Ends
President-elect Barack Obama reportedly plans to prohibit political appointees from working on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years to avoid conflicts of interest, The Washington Express reported in its Nov. 6 edition.... The Christian Science Monitor, which is ceasing its print publication,
reported last week on the Bush administration's last minute
efforts to weaken environmental protections and support "industry-friendly" politics....
Cheers and JeersJeer to the New England Journal of Medicine for having only a two-year look-back period for disclosing conflicts of interest, which led it to fail to disclose that Johns Hopkins professor John Walkup, the lead author of the October 30th study
(subscription required) on using sertraline (Zoloft) to treat
childhood anxiety, had financial ties to Pfizer, the drug?s
manufacturer. An NEJM spokeswoman said Walkup's financial
relationship with Pfizer dated from 2005 and thus wasn't disclosed in the article. Most journals have a three-year
look-back policy. NEJM's chief rival, the Journal of the
American Medical Association, uses a five-year look-back period.
Jeer to John Tierney of the New York Times for a
blog entry that claimed the quality of data in industry-funded studies was significantly better than data from
non-industry-funded research. The blog post, based on a study in
International Journal of Obesity, failed to report that the
corresponding author of that study, David Allison, "received
grants, honoraria, consulting fees and donations from numerous
food, pharmaceutical and other companies as well as nonprofit
organizations and government agencies with interests in obesity-related issues."